The first outbreak of coronavirus was in Wuhan city of China, which has almost dominated global consciousness. The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11 March 2020 has declared it a pandemic and people worldwide had to practice social distancing or follow complete lockdown. Some parts of the world were exercising lockdown much before in India, like China. As we all know Man is a social animal and when we impose quarantine or isolation, along with the existing stress due to the pandemic, our mental health could get affected due to undercurrents. This sudden drastic change in the behavioural pattern, though it was self-imposed, does not offer us a choice, as one could risk the lives of many others.
Everyone reacts differently during the pandemic, Here are some common stress factors during a disease outbreak are:
- Fear & worry about your own health along with your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty in sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco and/or other drugs
Now Intensify this situation with the global depression, job cuts, salary delays or salary cuts and intuition of uncertainty and we have so much to cope with. The new ways of work from home, home-schooling of children and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, and unable to meet your close ones who live in different cities all this take time to get habitual. Adapting this new lifestyle and constantly dealing with the fear of getting affected with this virus, with the various degrees of relaxations and continuation of lockdown can be quite alarming and challenging. When we face uncertainty, fear, worry, stress and the thought of being vulnerable till we find a vaccine are some normal reactions. So along with taking measures to increase your immunity, it is equally important to take care of your mental health.
There are various ways to take care of our own mental health and along with others who may require some extra support and care.
1. Exercises or practice Yoga
Physical exercise or Yoga is a perfect way to start your day. Practicing exercise and Yoga in the early morning helps to lessen stress and stimulate mood by reducing circulating cortisol levels and increasing endorphins secretion.
Exercise enhances brain activity which helps you to take your mind off things and boost your overall mood.
Yoga helps us acquire a perception of how our own distinctive mind works and that awareness can help us live in a more receptive way.
According to Ayurveda, Yoga helps to balance the energy of Surya (Pingala) and Chandra (Ida) Nadi (neurons) and keep our body in a state of relaxation.
Massage has a remarkable effect on body and mind, as massaging the body facilitates the production of serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters that nurtures well-being, fulfillment and happiness. Massage also reduces cortisol levels, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which is linked with stress and anxiety. Serotonin consequently enables us to generate melatonin, which helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms and calm us to sleep.
In Ayurveda, Abhyanga (oil massage) is a self-care ritual that we perform daily which helps to heal the mind and body from the stresses of daily life.
3. Healthy and nutritious diet
Whatever you eat, affects your physical and mental health. A healthy and nutritious diet, in particular, can help us to lessen stress and anxiety. Consuming a diet rich in prebiotic like yogurt leads to the proper balance of gut bacteria. These good gut bacteria prompt the neural pathways by the release of 95% Serotonin neurotransmitters that travel directly between the gut and the brain, which helps in calming moods and regulating sleep.
One should consume dry fruits like walnut, almond, berries, leafy vegetable and oily fish on a daily basis. They consist of antioxidants and omega fatty acids, that hinder oxidation in the brain, aid in the growth of new neurons and help to grow neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and serotonin, which is very crucial for maintaining good mental health and wellbeing.
According to Ayurveda, one should consume Satvik Ahara i.e vegan, fresh and light food to enlighten the Satvika Guna of the brain to remain free from tamas properties like fear and anxiety.
4. Meditation and self-awareness
Meditation is the practice of thinking deeply or focusing one’s mind for a period of time. Meditation helps you to develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best version.
meditation really works for our brain like magic. It helps to reduce negative neurological connections to the medial prefrontal cortex or ‘me center’ of the brain dulling attributes such as fear, stress, panic and anxiety. Simultaneously, it also builds new positive neurological connections to the parts of the brain which promote attributes like focus and decision-making.
According to Ayurveda, Dhyana is a process in which the mind and the body are inextricably connected. It helps to gain self-consciousness and keep you away from the sense of fear.
5. Busy yourself
Keeping yourself busy leads to a healthy and happy mind. Try activities you like - create art or draw, listen to music, read books, dance, spend time with nature, spend time with your family members and pets.
Busy people tend to have more opportunities to learn as they are perceived as more information and deal with a wider range of situations in daily life. When you are busy, your mind is not diverted to the negativity and also your neurotransmitters work in a proper manner.
Sleep is as important to our health just like breathing, drinking, eating or any other activity. Body cells repair themselves while we are sleeping and our brains strengthen our memories and process information.
Poor sleep could lead to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Levels of neurotransmitters, stress hormones in the brain and distort thinking and emotional regulation can also get affected due to lack of sleep. So it is very vital to take adequate sleep of at least 7 - 8 hr per day for the wellbeing of mental health.
Ayurveda teaches us that sleep (Nidra) is one of the three pillars of health, along with the food (Ahara) and energy management (Brahmacharya). “Happiness and unhappiness, nourishment (good physique) and emaciation, strength and debility, knowledge and ignorance, life and death—all are dependent on sleep.”
Aromatherapy uses natural plant extract for mental health and well-being. It is a holistic strategy in which we inhale the oils of aromatic herbs like lavender, sandalwood and basil and through inhalation the specialized nerve cells in the upper part of the nose detect smells, they send an impulse to the brain along the olfactory nerve to an area called the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb processes the impulse and delivers the information about the smell to other neighboring areas of the brain. These other areas are known as the limbic system.
The limbic system is a set of brain structures that play an essential role in controlling behavior, emotions, memory, and mood and immediately helps to feel calm and stress-free.
8. Ayurvedic and natural herbs
In addition to helpful lifestyle and diet changes, Ayurvedic and traditional herbal supplements can be used to treat various ailments including depression. There are many plants mentioned in Ayurveda that support mental health.
Herbs like Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Shankhapushpi (Convolvulus microphyllus), Mandukaparni (Centella asiatica), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Jatamansi (Celastrus paniculatus) and Vacha (Acorus calamus) are scientifically proven to boost overall brain function by enhancing its capacity to deal with stress while diminishing anxiety. The above-mentioned herbs are potent natural nootropics and help to circulate the secretion of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. Also, these herbs are adaptogenic and have been researched to show anti-stress, anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties.
Additionally, take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news and consuming viral information, which could higher the risk of anxiety levels. Simply pursue the natural ways and stay mentally strong and healthy during the lockdown and in the world-order, post the lockdown.
(With inputs from Vasavdatta Gandhi, Director at Millennium Herbal Care Ltd.)
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